|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
3 - 9 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
The Security Council session on Friday in which a US-British proposal to try the two Lockerbie suspects in The Hague was approved. Libyan leader Muaamar Gaddafi (right), on a wheelchair, told CNN in an interview that he feared "tricks" from the US and Britain (photos: Reuters)
Libya seeks better terms
Last week, the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution backing US and British proposals for a trial (by a panel of three Scottish judges and according to Scottish law) of two Libyans suspected of bombing a Pan Am flight in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Council added that the six-year-old air and arms embargo would be suspended as soon as the suspects were handed over to The Hague.
Libya has accepted the trial of its citizens in principle but insists upon first negotiating the conditions of their extradition. The Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that although Libya accepts that the two suspects should be tried in The Hague, "it is not committed to the clauses in the British-Dutch agreement [on conditions of the handover of the suspects] attached to the Security Council resolution because Libya was not a party to this agreement."
It also expressed reservations about the legal procedures of the trial. After examining the proposal last week, Libya requested negotiations on some aspects of the trial, if not with the Americans or British, then with the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Among Libyan concerns is how the suspects would be handed over to the Dutch and whether they would be able to appeal the court's decision. Both Washington and London, however, rejected the Libyan demands and insisted that their offer was a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposition.
Under the US-British proposal, the suspects would not be extradited once they arrived in the Netherlands. If convicted, they would serve their sentences in a British prison.
The Arab League, which has provided constant backing for Libya in its dispute with the United States, offered to mediate between the two sides over trial arrangements. Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid said he had approached the US and British embassies in Cairo and Annan on the issue. The League has as yet received no response.
In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said it would be "inappropriate" for the League to mediate as the plan has assigned that role to the UN secretary-general.
In April 1992, the Security Council imposed an air and arms embargo against Libya for refusing to hand over the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, which left 271 people dead, to either the US or Britain.
Libya immediately denied any involvement and refused to comply with extradition demands from the US and Britain, saying that the two countries could not be both prosecutor and judge. Tripoli also has no extradition agreements with either the US or Britain.
The Libyan lawyer of the two suspects, Ibrahim Legwell, in a recent telephone interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, denied allegations that his country was afraid of what the US described as "clear evidence" of Libyan involvement in the bombing. "Libya is not afraid of that at all. The trial will be in front of the whole world and they will see that this purported evidence is inconclusive," Legwell said. He insisted that the important thing is "guaranteeing the conditions and procedures of a fair trial".
Jim Swire, spokesman of the families of the British victims in the bombing, criticised American and British hastiness. "There is no point after all these years in trying to hurry the Libyans and hassle them into a trial," he said. Swire is also skeptical about US claims that it has conclusive evidence against Libya. "The evidence is very weak. I think it is highly unlikely that any case against the two men would succeed."
In an interview with the American Cable News Network, CNN, earlier this week, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi expressed doubts over the intentions of the US and Britain. He called the US-British proposal, which came shortly before the opening of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) summit, "unnegotiable" and described it as an attempt to undermine Arab, African and Third World support for Libya.
Both NAM and the Arab League, whose foreign ministers are due to meet on 16 September, threatened earlier to defy the UN sanctions against Libya if the US did not respond positively to what they see as flexibility in the Libyan position. Libya was the first country to suggest the trial of its nationals in a third neutral country, but Washington and London initially rejected the proposal.
In July, a resolution was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) stating that African members would defy the air embargo against Libya. A number of African leaders have matched words with deeds and have flown to Tripoli in the past two months.
It was not clear, however, whether NAM and the Arab League would adopt the same stance as the OAU. Arab countries initially backed the Security Council resolution, viewing it as a positive development, but they also agreed on the importance of taking Libyan concerns into consideration.
Libyan Foreign Minister Omar Montasser, in South Africa to take part in the preparatory NAM meetings, held private talks with South African President Nelson Mandela on Sunday to discuss NAM's attitude to Libya. Mandela was among the key mediators between Libya and the two Western powers.
On Sunday Libya asked the Arab League to lift sanctions against Tripoli immediately, without waiting for approval from the Security Council. In a draft resolution to the League, Libya also asked its 22 members to affirm Libya's right to reparations for the economic costs of the embargo. Libya said that sanctions had cost it some $24 billion and had led to more than 18,000 deaths. The draft will be examined by the League's foreign ministers in their upcoming meeting.
Meanwhile, the Libyan Foreign Ministry statement criticised what it described as "threats" in the latest Security Council resolution aimed "at aborting this solution and finding an excuse to toughen sanctions". The US has threatened to extend sanctions to include an oil embargo. However, with European reliance on Libyan oil, it is unlikely that European countries will agree to such a measure.
In an attempt to pressure Britain and the US to negotiate, Gaddafi demanded an investigation into claims that British intelligence was involved in a plot to assassinate him in 1996. In an interview with the Qatari television station Al-Jazira, Gaddafi said that the 1986 bombing of Libya (ordered by former US President Ronald Reagan) and Britain's alleged attempt to kill him should be dealt with in the same way as the Lockerbie bombing.
Earlier this month, former British intelligence agent David Shayler said that Britain's foreign intelligence agency, M16, had paid a Libyan agent $160,000 in a failed attempt to assassinate Gaddafi. The charge was dismissed by the British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, as "pure fantasy".
Take it or leave it, says US